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Beijing Declaration : Tackling unmet commitments 25 years later

In 2020, the world, including Rwanda, is gearing up to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fourth World Conference on Women and the Adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This milestone will be simultaneously marked with the five years of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) which aims as one to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

As we celebrate 25 years of Beijing Conference on women, a lot has been achieved in empowering women and girls.

However, we still have a long way to go by addressing persisting obstacles hindering women to fully enjoy their rights which include child defilement, Gender-Based Violence, unpaid care work, limited participation of women in leadership and governance processes among others.

The Government of Rwanda, CSOs and Private sector should be committed to making gender equality a lived reality for all women and girls who have historically been marginalized and who have waited long enough.
This is a vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and fair world that is ultimately better for both women and men alike.

Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviors, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued.

Providing women and girls with equal access to education, productive resources, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.

Implementing legal frameworks regarding female equality in the workplace and the eradication of harmful practices targeted at women and girls is crucial to ending the gender-based discrimination across areas and programs.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women emphasizes that "a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality of men and women.

It is also important to challenge the gender stereotypes that prevent men from contributing to unpaid care work so that women can also find time to engage in public spaces.

Over the last three decades, women empowerment has been at the heart of the debate on how to achieve gender equality between men and women across the world. Women empowerment is considered as key condition for the success of development programs and endeavours.

In the same vein, in 1995, at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women, in which Rwanda took part, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) has been adopted as a comprehensive agenda for women empowerment and gender equality.

It provides for collaboration between governments, private sector, development partners, International and civil society organizations and calls up them to take strategic actions to empower women around the following 12 critical areas of concern :

 Women and poverty
 Education and training of women
 Women and health
 Violence against women
 Women and armed conflict
 Women and economy
 Women in power and decision making
 Institutional mechanisms
 Human rights and women
 Women and media
 Women and the environment
 The girl child

In this regard, the accountability process of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) developed and agreed upon in 1995 requires member States of the United Nations to meet on a five-year basis to review the level of implementation of the Platform for Action critical areas with a view to reactivate commitment, considering prevailing and emerging global, regional and national issues.

Despite progress made in the implementation of the BPfA across its 12 critical areas in Rwanda, impediments are still undermining efforts in this area while impending full attainment of gender equality and women empowerment.

-  There is persisting poverty among women leading to economic dependence, limited control over land and other productive resources, under representation of women in the entire agricultural value chain and in some economic sectors and positions, limited skills in project design and financial illiteracy, illegal marriage and union and heavy workload ;

-  In the areas of education, health and Girl child major challenges are, child defilement, teenage pregnancy and motherhood, resulting from limited knowledge on sexual and reproductive health which constitutes a big hindrance to women, mainly young girls in rural areas, and this is placed among the core drivers of teenage pregnancies and low participation of women and girls in TVET and ICT programmes that are traditionally male dominated.

-  Structural and cultural barriers, limited capacity in leadership skills and self -confidence, household chores, limited support and trust from husbands and spousal conflicts, scattered women empowerment initiatives and structures that leads to inadequate coordination. Overall, stereotypes around women’s capacity and leadership skills, roles, responsibilities and positions are still common and prevent women from effectively participating and engaging in decision making and political activities.

-  Despite the impressive efforts towards eliminating GBV, there are still persisting challenges due to limited women’s economic empowerment, negative social norms and the culture of silence about GBV and mediation initiatives which hinders reporting of cases and curtails prevention and effective legal assistance efforts for victims of GBV. There is also a problem of evidence collection and preservation, whereby a significant number of GBV cases are reported to RIB and prosecution authority, but they are not taken to court due to lack of convincing evidences.

Rwanda has achieved tremendous improvements towards the implementation of the BPfA. Being a traditionally patriarchal society, Rwanda has made significant strides in terms of improving women’s empowerment, including visible representation in power and decision making, poverty alleviation among women, substantial land rights, legal reforms and investments in health and social protection systems.

Across all twelve (12) critical areas, there is evidence of improvement in terms of access to resources, access to services, participation in decision-making, and access to education. Rwanda is also at the forefront of several women’s empowerment commitments in terms of efforts to achieve gender equality at different levels including but not limited to recruitment of women, fighting GBV and promote an equal right society among many others.

However, all the 12 critical areas are not all improving equally fast and progress is uneven. While health outcomes in terms of maternal mortality and child mortality have seen tremendous progress, teenage pregnancies remain a great challenge affecting health, education and perpetuating poverty among women and young girls associated with low knowledge in reproductive health.

Similarly, while women’s involvement and influence in decision making spheres, especially in public central level is impressive and visible, women’s representation and influence in local government is still at low level.

A peculiar pattern observed in certain areas is that progress is actually fluctuating and reversed, such as women’s participation in the judiciary, VUP jobs held by women and enrolment in TVET courses.

Women access to financial resources is also still very low as well as the gender pay gap. This pattern is crucial for understanding the underlying drivers of gender equality to be able to advocate for the design and implement effective policy and programming.

Finally, it is evident that poverty and GBV are still prevalent among women and girls. Gender equality is therefore not only about promoting women and girls, but rather about addressing structural barriers that prevent one gender from accessing opportunities and achieving outcomes, thus itwill remain an empty notion or at least bear little outcome with the current low men and boys’ engagementin the process.

Africa in General and Rwanda in particular are keen to engineer the steady transfer of the baton towards gender equality to the younger generation of Rwanda’s women and girls who will pick up the battle from now hence-fourth.

Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe reiterates the need for the government of Rwanda to accelerate the implementation of the various laws, policies and frameworks that have been adopted to address the discrimination of women and gender inequalities.

Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe is a national civil society umbrella organization of civil society organizations working to advance Gender equality, advancement of women status, peace and development.

This statement is produced by Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe in partnership with CARE International in Rwanda with funding from NORAD.

For more information and/or to request for an interview, please contact Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe at profemmes2013@gmail.com / info@profemmes.org